Collaborative Research: Subglacial Antarctic Lakes Scientific Access (SALSA): Integrated Study of Carbon Cycling in Hydrologically-active Subglacial Environments
The Antarctic subglacial environment remains one of the least explored regions on Earth. This project will examine the physical and biological characteristics of Subglacial Lake Mercer, a lake that lies 1200m beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. This study will address key questions relating to the stability of the ice sheet, the subglacial hydrological system, and the deep-cold subglacial biosphere. The education and outreach component aims to widely disseminate results to the scientific community and to the general public through short films, a blog, and a website.
Subglacial Lake Mercer is one of the larger hydrologically active lakes in the southern basin of the Whillans Ice Plain, West Antarctica. It receives about 25 percent of its water from East Antarctica with the remainder originating from West Antarctica, is influenced by drain/fill cycles in a lake immediately upstream (Subglacial Lake Conway), and lies about 100 km upstream of the present grounding line of the Ross Ice Shelf. This site will yield information on the history of the Whillans and Mercer Ice Streams, and on grounding line migration. The integrated study will include direct sampling of basal ice, water, and sediment from the lake in concert with surface geophysical surveys over a three-year period to define the hydrological connectivity among lakes on the Whillans Ice Plain and their flow paths to the sea. The geophysical surveys will furnish information on subglacial hydrology, aid the site selection for hot-water drilling, and provide spatial context for interpreting findings. The hot-water-drilled boreholes will be used to collect basal ice samples, provide access for direct measurement of subglacial physical, chemical, and biological conditions in the water column and sediments, and to explore the subglacial water cavities using a remotely operated vehicle equipped with sensors, cameras, and sampling equipment. Data collected from this study will address the overarching hypothesis \"Contemporary biodiversity and carbon cycling in hydrologically-active subglacial environments associated with the Mercer and Whillans ice streams are regulated by the mineralization and cycling of relict marine organic matter and through interactions among ice, rock, water, and sediments\". The project will be undertaken by a collaborative team of scientists, with expertise in microbiology, biogeochemistry, hydrology, geophysics, glaciology, marine geology, paleoceanography, and science communication.
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